90s Kids would remember the notable comic book, The Sandman, written by Neil Gaiman and published by DC Comics. It revolves around the King of Dreams, Dream, Morpheus, or The Sandman. He can shape and alter humans’ dreams when they fall asleep. He calls his realm The Dreaming, where all the humans will reside while sleeping.

Photo courtesy of Scroll.in

Adaptations are a crucial art form, especially for a work that has garnered thousands of fans. For most of them, the accuracy of the original material is important. But this is not always the case behind the scenes. Major changes are important to adjust to the medium. Cultural aspects and the current audience are also highly considered. 

For more than 30 years main creator, Neil Gaiman, constantly refused to get the comics adapted because he was skeptical whether the adaptation would justify his work. With the comics exploring genres–high fantasy and horror–Gaiman knew it would be difficult to put it to the screen. “I had refused to get involved,” Gaiman says. “I’d refused to write them; I refused to be the executive producer. I wouldn’t do it because I knew that if I did, I would lose the only power that I had, which was to be able to speak out against a bad Sandman movie.”

Photo courtesy of Neil Gaiman

He also expressed how difficult and expensive it would be. Gaiman continues, “Fortunately, Sandman was just too expensive for anybody to justify making. And if you’re trying to make a Sandman movie, the first question is, what do you throw out? Because Sandman, by the time it was finished, is 3,000 pages of comic. So what is your movie then?”

Before the screens

Gaiman only started considering adapting his comics now that technology progressed. Where TV series are capable of capturing the visuals, storytelling, and fantastical elements of The Sandman. Luckily, Showrunner Allan Heinberg is also a long-time fan of The Sandman. He had long wanted to adapt the comics since he first read them in college. 

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

At first, he was anxious about how he can adapt the story from the paper to the screens: “I’ve now been making TV and movies professionally for 24 years, so I reread the books specifically with an eye toward, ‘How am I gonna be able to do this?'” Heinberg says. He knew well enough that adapting a favorite comic requires great efforts: “In order to pull this off, so much of it would have to change in terms of how we approach the material.”

 

Finally, The Sandman was launched on August 5th on Netflix. A series of changes were made to incorporate the story into the screen. The first season also only reaches the “Doll House” arc in issues #9-16. How much had changed? Was the change justifiable to the plot and characters? 

Fortunately, there isn’t much bad news–they are hardly changes that are considered “bad,” but should be discussed.

The Bad

The Casting Process

There was a somewhat heated argument from the fans for casting actors to play certain characters that are different from the comics. Rose Walker, who was originally white in the comics, is played by black actress Vanesu Samunyai. Casting a black actress for a major character also meant casting other black actors for her family in the series.

Photo courtesy of Popverse

Lucifer was drawn and commonly known as male in the comics. But Lucifer is played by actress Gwendoline Christie in the adaptation.

Photo courtesy of Entertainment Weekly

Gaiman also intentionally gender-swapped Lucienne in the series, who was the original “Lucien” in the series. She is played by black actress Vivienne Acheampong.

Photo courtesy of Film News Feed

There were also two siblings of Dream that were cast differently. His sister, Death, was also originally drawn as white. But she was played by a black actress named Kirby Howell-Baptiste

Photo courtesy of Polygon

While Desire, who was canonically known to be non-binary, is played by a non-binary actor Mason Alexander Park. Despite being accurate to the comics, this also caused outrage on the internet. 

Photo courtesy of Daily Express

Neil Gaiman defends his cast

All casts firmly accepted the roles they were given. They fully understood Gaiman’s belief that the characters need not be limited to a single image. Neil Gaiman himself also went to Twitter to defend the cast: “I give zero f–ks about people who don’t understand/ haven’t read Sandman whining about a non-binary Desire or that Death isn’t white enough,” Gaiman tweeted after the cast list was made public. “Watch the show, make up your minds.”

It is totally natural for fans to expect an adaptation to be as accurate to the comics as possible. However, a slightly different take should also be encouraged. Characters with fantastical elements are also not bound to a single race or gender. Stories are, inevitably, ever-changing.

The Good

More compelling characters 

The changes made to the adaptation of The Sandman are what made it enjoyable to watch. These changes were carefully discussed and written. It is safe to say the changes actually made Gaiman’s stories better! One of its reasons is that the characters have more depth. Here are the top five characters that were changed in the adaptation: 

The Corinthian

Photo courtesy of Polygon
  • One of the series’ biggest changes is the antagonist and Dream’s masterpiece, the Corinthian. In the comics, he only appears in the Doll House arc in issue #10. But in the show, he is shown as the main antagonist of the story that constantly tries to sabotage Dream. He appears to major characters that have the potential to control or kill Dream: Roderick Burgess, Ethel Cripps, John Dee, and the Walker siblings. 

Roderick Burgess

Photo courtesy of Bleeding Cool
  • Roderick Burgess, Lord Magus of the Order of the Ancient Mysteries, accidentally imprisons Dream when he wanted Death. In the comics, he only has one son, Alex, and wanted to capture Death in exchange for immortality. However, the series gave a deeper reason. The adaptation showed that Roderick wanted to resurrect his first son, Randall, who died at Gallipoli. But because he captured the wrong one, he wanted wealth, power, and immortality instead. 
  • In the comic, Roderick also simply dies naturally with old age. But the show took a different turn with Alex killing him.

John Dee

Photo courtesy of Slash Film
  • In the comic, John Dee is arrested by the Justice League for using the Dreamstone and imprisoned at Arkham Asylum. Ethel Cripps also only made brief exchanges with her son and never discussed John’s father. The adaptation is different, Ethel imprisoned John. They reconcile in the asylum as Ethel reveals details about Roderick and the ruby. 
  • John Dee’s motivation in the comic is also different in the adaptation. He simply wanted to use the Dreamstone to be recognized as a king. But the adaptation explored a deeper reason wherein he wants to make people tell the truth.  After being lied to by his mother, he wants people to be more honest with themselves despite how destructive it can be. 
  • He also killed Rosemary in the comic. But it seemed that the adapters still wanted to humanize John by giving her his amulet of protection for her kindness.

Johanna Constantine

Photo courtesy of Netflix
  • In the comic, it was John Constantine that helped Dream find his missing sand pouch instead of Johanna. Gaiman also intended Jenna Coleman to play both the 1700s and modern Johanna Constantine. The scene of Johanna exorcising a princess is also not part of the original material. 

The Other Sandman

The Sandman. Eddie Karanja as Jed Walker in episode 108 of The Sandman. Cr. Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2022
  • The series had Jed play The Sandman in his dreams while being tricked by an escaped nightmare, Gault. But originally it was Lyta’s husband, Hector, who acted as The Sandman. He was tricked by two nightmares, Brute, and Glob, while Jed was his sidekick.

Artistic Adjustments

One of the most intriguing parts of the series was the fifth episode, “24/7.” An adaptation of the horror story titled “24 Hours” (The Sandman #6), revolves around a powerful man that warps reality enough to destroy the customers of a 24-hour diner.  A huge part of both the comic and Audible version of the story is Gaiman’s narration. But this was removed in the series. 

The Sandman. (L to R) Lourdes Faberes as Kate Fletcher, Steven Brand as Marsh Janowski, Emma Duncan as Bette Munroe, Daisy Head as Judy Talbot, Laurie Davidson as Mark Brewer in episode 105 of The Sandman. Cr. Liam Daniel/Netflix © 2022

The Showrunner explains that they wanted to explore the capability of dialogue to move the story. Heinberg says, “We essentially had to rewrite it and do it as a play, where if you’re sitting out in the audience and you’re watching people come on stage, everything has to be revealed in their interactions with each other. We can’t tell the audience what’s going on at any point. We didn’t veer away from the material, but the way that it’s presented and the way that you meet the characters is very different.”

The adaptation definitely made the episode more compelling. Without Gaiman’s narration to spoon-feed the audience, they are left guessing what happens next.

Verdict

Photo courtesy of Engadget 2

The Sandman is one of the great works of Neil Gaiman. His constant refusal to have it adapted for the past 30 years proves how much he wanted a justifiable adaptation. The story was definitely given to the right hands, as Heinberg is a fan of the work himself. 

The passion of both creators was evident in the series. The characters are written with more depth, a vast cast that prioritizes representation more than accuracy, and artistic alterations. It is definitely one of those adaptations that went beyond simply retelling a story. The Sandman series adaptation became more appealing especially for the generation today. It also showed that stories are not just transcending time, but also evolving. 

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